Mt. Islip Loop via Windy Gap and Big Cienega Trails
We did this hike as a continuation of our overnight at Little Jimmy Trail Camp.
Trailhead: Weir Canyon Gate 8 entrance
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Permit Required: Not for Hiking (Adventure Pass for parking)
This route to Mt. Islip will take you on a lollypop style route starting and ending at the Windy Gap Trailhead while also utilizing the Mt. Islip Ridge and Big Cienega trails. The route showcases panoramic views of the San Gabriel valley and beyond.
While the trail is accessible year round, the summer months can be extremely hot and the trail is quite exposed at times. Mt. Islip sits around 8,200′ of elevation so the winter can bring snow and ice to the experience. Also be advised that there are sections of the Windy Gap trail that prone to washing out from rainfall making the climb more potentially eventful that it might otherwise be.
The Windy gap trailhead is located about 1/4 mile past the Crystal Lake store. Take Highway 39/ Azusa canyon road north until just before what is now the end of the road in Azusa Canyon and turn Right. The Windy Gap trail starts out in a relatively well shaded forest before ascending into a section of trail that was ravaged by fire and bark beetles.
Just over a mile after you leave the trailhead you will encounter the the first Intersection of the Big Cienega Trail. We kept straight on the Windy Gap trail as we made our way up to Little Jimmy camp for the evening. It’s just past this junction that you will begin to lose the comfort and shade of the trees.
Another mile and a half of climbing will put you at at the apex of Windy Gap. Here is where you will leave the Windy Gap trail and enter the Islip Ridge Trail. Not visible on the forest service marker to the left is the showing the split in the trails. Behind the photographer is the trail leading up to the Windy Gap pass.
After just making the climb up to the gap, there’s just another short climb before the trail levels out somewhat and follows the ridge line for the next mile.
The summit of Mt. Islip is about a tenth of a mile off of the Ridge Trail. If it wasn’t you intention to visit it, it is well worth it. Depending on the weather, from the top you can see nearly all of the major peaks of the San Gabriel mountains.
There is also some interesting history, if you’re into that kind of thing, near the summit of Mt. Islip. In the 1930’s there was a fire lookout tower at the site. The Lookout tower did not remain in this location for long but the remains of the hut used for shelter by those manning the lookout still exists, as well as the foundations of the former lookout tower.
As you come back down to the Islip Ridge trail, continue to head southwest. At about 1 mile, you will encounter another trail junction. This is the other end of the Big Cienega Trail that you passed on your way up the Windy Gap Trail. This should prove to be a nice easy descent compared to the steeper Windy Gap trail. Once you get back to the Windy Gap trail, turn right and continue back to the trailhead.